Ah, the Fed. Al Brown's new 1930s New York-inspired joint is something of an experience. The Federal Delicatessen takes its cue from the Manhattan delis of the thirties, a time when delis reigned supreme on Manhattan island with around 2000 littered around town. During his youth when Al was working as a waiter in New York he fell in love with this quintessential style of dining, and in his latest venture, decided to introduce the dying breed (there's only around two dozen or so delis left in New York) to New Zealand.
A delicatessen is a Jewish-American eatery. The name delicatessen was originally a German loanword, which the Germans in turn had lent from the French word délicatesse, meaning 'delicious things (to eat)' - a pretty fitting description when it comes to Al's menu. We were showered with too many drinks and food nibbles to mention all in detail, although they all rightly deserve to be.
You can't go to the Fed without trying the picked ox tongue ($18.50) or Lots of Lox, a selection of Steward Island salmon cured three ways ($22) entrees. Their salads, the the grilled eggplant salad ($16), the spiced roast pumpkin ($14) and the roast cauliflower salad ($14) are all perfect counterpoints to the mains meats - the House Pastrami ($24), Veal Schnitzel ($28) and Turkey Meatloaf ($20) which were all masterly cooked and drenched in flavour. Finish off the meal with a NY cheesecake ($11.50) or lemon meringue pie ($11.50) and you've got yourself a very satisfied stomach.
Rum-lovers beware: the Fed makes an amazing Old Nut ($16) - their take on an Old Fashioned with Matusalem Solera Rum and cola nut. Seeing how happy I was with thr rum, the waitress suggested I try a 'naughty' soda jerk - a cola nut with fresh lime and Sailor Jerry spiced rum ($10), which has become my favourite drink in town.
One of the most important features of Federal Delicatessen is its carefully-constructed but carefree ambience. Federal doesn't look like it's trying to look like the 1930s, Federal just is the 1930s. Careful attention's paid to even the smallest of nuances, like the thirties colour palette - with olive green booths, grey-turquoise floor and muted white walls, the choice in typography, the staff uniform - for the girls turquoise work suits, red lips and pin-up girl hair, while the guys were decked out in more traditional shirts, all add up to an authentic experience.
Even in their service the littlest details weren't overlooked - the mugs in which our filter coffees were served were lightly heated so we didn't have to drink our hot coffee with cold cups. The service, the food and everything else about the Fed is high-grade, but with the approachability of a small town cafe.
The thing about Federal Delicatessen is that a place like this makes the life of a reviewer incredibly difficult. Words like 'tasty' and 'delicious' don't feel like enough, since the food from every other place you've described as tasty or delicious definitely does not match up to the Fed's level. It's incredibly frustrating, and leaves me with one cold and logical option to try and show how much I liked it there, a plain numerical rating: